Artwork for podcast Who Am I Really?
151 – “Junior”
Episode 15129th May 2021 • Who Am I Really? • Damon L. Davis
00:00:00 00:50:40

Share Episode

Shownotes

Dirk, from Phoenix, Arizona, was raised as a Hispanic person and his documentation said he was Hispanic, but the world saw him differently. And DNA did too. Dirk found his birth mother, but at two separate times, he was forced to reckon with secondary rejection. Fortunately, he found his birth father acceptance from all, but one of his siblings and the warm feeling inside from knowing He looks the most like their father out of all of his children.

This is dirk's journey

Transcripts

149 DIrk Uphoff ORIGINAL QUIET

Cold Cut

Dirk: [:

I said, you go at first and , he goes, no, bro, you go in. And I walked in the front of the restaurant and my birth dad was facing away, sitting down , and then he stood up, turned around and looked at me and just put his arms out and gave me a big old hug and a kiss.

, and again, just an immediate connection. That was an amazing, amazing moment

Episode Intro

Damon: [:

Show Intro

eeks old, Dirk was adopted in:

Dirk: [00:01:33] girl

I always like to kind of joke around and say, well, they wrote a stock because what they did is told my parents, well, we don't have any girls, but we've got this Hispanic boy that we think would go great with your other son. And so my parents went with that and

Damon: [:

Dirk: [00:01:57] But I knew very [00:02:00] early on that I was different from everybody else in the family, as far as looks, you know, me and my brother, were both adopted so that wasn't, you know, adoption was just kind of a word, but we'd say now you're Spanish and I'm Mexican or I'm Mexican and you're Spanish. And. That's kind of how we talked about it when we were, when we were little, but even preschool, even before I got into kindergarten I was getting very dark and my hair was much more coarse.

now, you know, again, born in:

And I definitely grew up with that. The color blind mentality was kind of a don't ask. Don't tell. So we never talked about adoption, much. We never talked about race or race differences. And I had a great family, but it was just something we didn't discuss.

Damon: [:

Dirk: [00:03:27] they were all white, even though my brother was supposedly was supposed to be part Mexican, but you know, he just looked white and , all the neighbors, I mean, everybody that you came in contact with was white. I mean, even my, you know, my mom would get asked at the grocery store when I was little, when I used to ride in the cart with her or whatever.

And she would get asked all the time of who is that little boy?

Damon: [:

Dirk: [00:04:22] Whenever I would go outside of the neighborhood every once in a while, There'd be situations that would happen.

I'd be on my bike with a buddy of mine and somebody will yell out the car, the N-word yeah, I'd get in a scuffle at school with somebody I knew. And, when one time in particular, I got the better of some kid and we must've been in second grade, but as soon as I let him up and he started walking away, you know, N word comes flying out.

ties, I didn't have a lot of [:

I just wanted to kind of. Crawl in the corner and pretend I wasn't there.

Damon: [:

You know? So the outside world is seeing you as something that you are not growing up thinking that you are, but you also don't actually know what your heritage is. How did you, when this racial epithet that doesn't actually apply to what you think you are, is coming at you all the time?

Dirk: [:

And I just remember being so excited that they're going to have curly hair like me. And of course, you know, it didn't happen. But I had, you know, just a lot of those kinds of situations, but I just never said anything to my parents. It, it was looking back, you know, again, I didn't have a lot of bad things happen, but a lot of the identity stuff was really mixed up.

Damon: [:

And you've said that you were adopted into a family with white parents, white siblings in a white community. So you don't have racial mirrors and. Right. You are told that you are of one descent when everybody else who sees you and hurls racial epithets at you is gone. You're yet another race that must have been really, really I don't know if you could even characterize it as unsettling, but like, it must've just been confusing.

Huh?

Dirk: [:

You don't say that about him. Yeah. , but it was, it was very confusing. there's just all kinds of memories that have popped up in the last couple of years that you know, I it's like looking in the mirror and you know what, you see, you see somebody brown or black, right. But mentally you're still white.

You think of yourself as white because that's how you're treated. And you know, it was just, yeah, it was confusing. I guess that's the best way to put it. It was, it was a different,

Damon: [:

Dirk: [00:09:02] I did have this one girlfriend, and that was the first time I heard, you know, so-and-so, can't go out with you anymore because her dad found out.

No, that's your black. And then, you know, then the whole thing comes well, but we told them that you weren't black and blah, blah, blah. You know? And, and so that happened a couple of times it happened in junior high and then in high school where there's, I know this one this one girl basically asked me out for homecoming and then kind of came back and said, her dad wouldn't let her.

And she didn't say why, but I know why, you know, I know why now. So it made it a little difficult. So I dated a little bit in high school, but but not a lot, not till I got to college.

Damon: [:

Dirk: [00:10:31] But my whole cultural background was white, so it was very, very uncomfortable for me. And I felt, you know, like an imposter let's, you know, for the most part, because I just didn't fit in, I didn't know the vernacular. I just, it was very uncomfortable and it took a while that college was, was difficult in that way.

es getting into the eighties [:

um, You know, so there's still a lot of stuff going on politically and racially. And so it was very uncomfortable. And I only dated white girls at that, you know, at that time. there was another girl on my floor at college who was mixed half black, half white. And, and I just heard the story from someone else where, you know, she was approached by, I forget what, which side, but she had to make a decision. They said, Hey, you gotta make a decision either you're going to be black or you're going to be white.

Damon: [:

Yeah. That's really fascinating. I've never really heard that. Ultimatum proposition be posed at somebody before, but

Dirk: [:

Damon: [00:11:51] but that's how cliques sort of operate it's, you know, either you're with us or against this kind of mentality. And [00:12:00] it's, it's interesting to hear that she was placed under that kind of pressure to pick an identity, which I would imagine was incredibly challenging for her because, so my wife is bi-racial, her mother is white Canadian.

Her dad is black from the Caribbean. And you know, she there's, no, you can't check a box because you're in two places. Right. And you can't help that. And so for somebody to come at you and to confront you with, Hey, check one of these boxes, either our box or their box. Had had to be tough and I'm sure I'm sure.

When you heard about her experience, you were like, man, I'm so glad that didn't happen to

Dirk: [:

Damon: [00:13:10] Adoption agencies sure. Do burned down a lot. Don't they. Anyway. Dirk met his wife, a Hispanic woman in San Diego, and they moved back to Illinois. . One day in church, a missionary was speaking and Dirk felt the call to the mission field. The family decided they would go do missionary work in a Spanish speaking country.

Dirk realized if he was traveling to another country, it would be helpful if he had some medical information about himself. Since his adoption agency had burned down. . He went to the courthouse to try to get some information. The court staff told Dirk his adoption was closed and he would have to ask the agency where he was adopted To give him some non identifying

Dirk: [:

Got my car, drove up the road a mile on the Florence Crittendon center. And it was a secure building. And I just remember walking up and pressing the buzzer. And I just heard a voice saying, can we help you? And I didn't know what to say. I said you know, I said my name and, and I was adopted her 33 years ago and I just heard, (door buzzer) I'll just never forget that no voice just let me in.

I see that I get kind of the [:

and then even then the narrative said that she, that he was going to get divorced. And but then when he, when he wouldn't, he said, well, I can't I'm I'm Catholic. So I can't get divorced that, that she was surprised at that. And, and it had said for his information that he had Spanish parents.

And so I thought, well, there it is. There's the Spanish part, I guess I am Spanish. after that I just kind of set it aside.

Damon: [:

Dirk: [00:16:59] She's, it's [00:17:00] just suggested I write her a letter on my birth mom. So I wrote my birth mom a letter and, just kind of gave her a rundown of my family. And I said, you know, you know, I've been successful professionally. And so I'm not looking for money. Like I said, I told her about my kids and of course I never got any response after that.

So I, again, I just let it go.

Damon: [:

Like, what did you think of this woman as you thought about, , I'm sure you had ideas about how this could go and now you've found out that she's not interested in, in your shared past, and she's like the least maternal person, this woman who's for all intents and purposes, a relative expert has ever met what went through your mind?

Dirk: [:

And I just started calling him and telling him the story. And he was, he was just like, wow. I mean, he didn't know what to say. And that's kind of how I felt as I, I just, I didn't know what to think. I didn't know what to say. You know, very disheartening after 40 plus years at that point. And you know, like you say, you kind of fantasize about how this conversation could go and what she's like and the millions of questions and adoptee has , about their birth mother or their, their background, and to be shut down like that.

[:

So I didn't really deal with it, Damon. I don't think to be honest,

Damon: [:

Dirk: [00:19:43] I never did. He and I never, never talk about it. I. In a way. I don't know why and why.

, so he was probably [:

And my brother was like, no, I'm good. And of course I said the same thing. And really at that point I was good, even though I was probably a lot more curious than he was, but he, he was just one of the adoptees that he's never wanted , to know. He's never looked into it. And so we never talk about it.

.

Damon: [:

Dirk could read the name of the town she was from, which was about 90 minutes from where he grew up in Peoria. As we adoptees, do he put on his investigative hat and started searching online for obituaries of his maternal side?

See when he was a child, Dirk found a document with his original name given to him at birth. So he knew what his last name was to search for. He found his maternal grandfather's obituary online where Dirk read the man had two daughters. One of which had to be his birth mother. Holding his redacted birth certificate up to the light.

nd that. A few years later in:

So he stayed with his adoptive [00:22:00] mom.

Dirk's adoptive father had passed away. He decided to take a day, borrow his mom's car and drive to the little town where his maternal connections originated. In that small community. Dirk drove to the graveyard to see where his grandparents were buried. Then he stopped at the local high school even though they were probably out for spring break

Dirk: [:

And uh, he said, yeah, yeah. How can I help you? And I said, well, do you guys, by any chance, have any old yearbooks from back, like into the fifties? And he goes, oh yeah, I [00:23:00] think we do. And, and he, he walked me back to the library, pointed to the books and said, knock yourself out and walked away. that was amazing.

ne I tried was I think it was:

That was, that was really cool. I finally, and when I saw our picture, that's my mom really?

Damon: [:

Dirk: [00:23:56] Oh, totally. And, and as you know, as an [00:24:00] adoptee, I mean, I think that's the biggest thing is seeing somebody that you look like is the most amazing thing in the world to me still. And when I saw that picture, it just was unbelievable.

, like I said, that was about:

so it's, it's what I had always suspected, but I never really thought it through. And so that took, that took a while to process.

Damon: [:

And, [00:25:00] but you know, whether you fully believed it or not, you had identified with this Latin X, Hispanic heritage. So to see that this black guy is your dad must have been a little bit weird, like, oh, huh. Like you could feel it, but it, but now like all of the Latin, Hispanic thing that I thought I might be able to try to identify with as like gone out the window, you know what I mean?

Dirk: [:

And, and since now that I know that I'm mixed [00:26:00] black and white the people that I've told it's it's, I would say two thirds said, that's what we thought. And then about another third were like, no, I thought, I really thought you were Hispanic. And so I'm still getting both, you know, and you know, my wife thought she was marrying a Hispanic guy, so it took a while for that all to sink in physically, culturally, mentally, that was a odd time.

It's really hard to put into words how I processed it. It took me about a year to really start to deal and think about that to be told you're one thing and I'm kind of a literal person and I saw it in black and white in my adoption paperwork. And, you know, obviously coming to find out that , I was a difficult to place child.

up a story. So this kid gets [:

And with me, it was like, she goes, I was really surprised. We didn't have to do anything. They just said, here he is. so yeah I was kind of the hot potato, 1960, you know, what do you, what do you do with this kid?

Damon: [:

rom his birth father's past. [:

Dirk: [:

So she kind of narrowed it down to three men who she thought would be my birth dad. And she had me text over a photo of myself she texted back right away and she said , you're, you're one of us. And then she spliced my photo with a photo of one of her uncles and sent it back to me and , she said, this might be your dad.

And I looked at that and again, look looked like him and it was, earth shattering for me. And then this cousin reached out to her cousin who was the daughter of this man. And about a week later, I got a call out of the blue from a woman that said, you know, you might be, might half brother. .

Damon: [:

Dirk: [00:28:57] . And we talked on the phone [00:29:00] for about an hour or there just an immediate connection. And so I said, well, Hey, you know, we should find out about this, you know, for sure.

Damon: [:

Dirk: [00:29:33] we're having dinner together. And there are, you know, they're just, you know, giving me the eye, you know, across from the table, like, who is this guy? You know? so it was a little tense at first. And I just remember getting up to go, go to the restroom and I, and I came back and then we, we kept talking and next thing I knew they're leaning the two women that might've been, my sisters were leaning into each [00:30:00] other's shoulders and just laughing.

And I'm finally, I'm like, Hey, what's the deal? And the older sister said, you know, when you got up and walked away and now that you know, we're talking to you, every move you make is our dad. Really? Yeah. Yeah. They said you look more like our dad.

Wow.

Yeah. And so that was an amazing evening.

Damon: [:

Dirk: [00:30:35] Almost tears. I mean, there was some Damon that, that in a certain moment in that conversation, it dawned on me that these are my two sisters.

hey just kept telling me how [:

And I told her, and she says, just like, daddy, I just thought that was hilarious.

Do they look more black than you do?

Yes. They're, they're darker skinned and I I'm, I guess, light light-skinned for a black person, right. Dark for definitely dark for a white person. And my hair is kind of the in-between hair, which that's a whole other story too. My mom had no idea what to do with my hair growing up. I always tell people, you know, some people have bad hair days.

bought a ancestry test for [:

My new sisters said, we're not going to tell the other three. Well, that didn't last, very long word got out and they thought maybe the youngest sister and the brother might not like the situation, but it was just really the opposite. About six months later, I met my, my new brother and the youngest sister and my birth dad.

my, my birth dad is in there [:

I said, you go at first and , he goes, no, bro, you go in. And I walked in the front of the restaurant and my birth dad was facing away, sitting down , and then he stood up, turned around and looked at me and just put his arms out and gave me a big old hug and a kiss.

, and again, just an immediate connection. That was an amazing, amazing moment. I kept finding myself touching him. It was just really weird. I just couldn't stop, you know, just because I was like, I knew I would, this was my dad, this, this, he looks like he's built exactly like me. He, you know, he laughs like me.

ust staring at us, you know? [:

Damon: [00:34:04] Dirk is in a relationship now with his birth dad and three of the four sisters, the one sister just isn't ready yet. When I asked about her Dirk said, she's the one that's only five months apart from him in the birth order. . And that probably has a lot to do with their disconnect.

.

Dirk's birth father's wife and Dirk's birth mother were pregnant at the same time. But it was nice to hear that his birth father and the other siblings were receptive because the challenge for an adoptee is we didn't create the situation. We find ourselves in when reunion happens like this.

o black history adoption and [:

Through listening to podcasts, like who am I really? . And digging into other resources for adoptees, Dirk learned about the services provided by search angels. He found a phenomenal guy named dan who found Dirk's birth mother and her phone number

Dirk: [:

And she just simply said, I made a very difficult decision back then in 1960. And I would appreciate it if you don't reach out to me again and then she hung up. So that was, that secondary rejection was , really tough.

think they want to have any [:

Damon: [00:36:05] Yeah. That is so tough. I'm so sorry. That's that's really hard. there's a small slice of solace in the fact that she acknowledged you, you know?

Dirk: [:

Know, no, but it, you know, it's funny. I mean, I sat there kind of dumbfounded for about an hour after that phone call. And then I thought, you know, that does give me a lit little bit of closure because she actually, she didn't just hang up. She actually acknowledged who I was, you know?

And that's that she was my birth mom, even though it was not good, you know, she didn't want to have any discussion with me. Cause I just said, I just have a few questions for you and I told you her response, you know? but it, it still is a little bit of closure for me.

Damon: [:

It sounds like while it wasn't the response you wanted, it also sounds like it wasn't a rude dismissal. It was, I would appreciate if you would not, which is very different right then.

Dirk: [:

And just getting involved in this, in the adoption community is, has been phenomenal. I've gotten involved with adoptees connect and it's really been [00:38:00] neat. Getting to know other adoptees and just seeing how many similarities that we all share.

Damon: [:

I was curious to hear Dirk's birth father's version of events. He told Dirk, he met his birth mother at a club and they saw one another on and off for a while. His birth mother was in college. His birth father had a job and a young family. When she got pregnant, the relationship grinded to a halt.

His family moved. She went to college in a different state. And dirk's birth father was told his birth mother had lost the baby

Dirk: [:

Damon: [00:38:52] That's crazy. I, I often think about these stories [00:39:00] of the babies who were quote, unquote lost. They know, died in childbirth or, you know, whatever the awful scenario is that is portrayed as to how that child turned out for lack of better word. And then this adult shows up who is that child? I mean, that's gotta be so jarring for a natural mother who is told that their child died for a natural father who was told that the child was lost.

I mean, this, you know, giant person walks in and looks exactly like him. And is the, is that kid, I mean, it's the same way, but you were reaching out to touch him to make it real for yourself. He must've been kind of blown away too.

Dirk: [:

You know, I was speaking with him on the phone the other day and he's been having some health issues. he asked me what my blood type was. So I told him, and, you know, he had the same blood type and he just started laughing. He goes, he goes, I'm you and you're me. And uh, it's just, those are fun, fun conversations for me.

I, again, never having any kind of physical connection with anybody. And then now I I've got this, you know, and even though, you know, I just turned 60 and he's, you know, 82 we have we have a great relationship, I would say. And we probably talk on the phone twice, a couple of times a month, probably every other week or so we'd talk in the phone.

ng. So yeah, that's, that's [:

Damon: [00:41:06] How did you share your journey at all with your adoptive mother and her natural children, your, your siblings? Did you tell them about it? Was it a surprise when you were like, guess what I found, tell me how that went.

Dirk: [:

So it took me a while to get the courage, to tell her, I told my sister first [00:42:00] and my other siblings which those were all hard conversations as well. But when I told my, my mom yeah, I th I think it was. It was difficult for her. So we've maybe brought it up maybe one other time since I told her.

And I, and I think I told her maybe two years ago and she's 90 now 90 and doing great. I, I just, I just want to be careful. I, you know, I know kind of who she is and she's a great mom. I just love her to death and I just don't want to rock her world too much, especially difficult. Right. But it is amazing.

mind. But it, it is, it's a, [:

Damon: [00:43:02] I can imagine. it's hard for us to figure out how to, in any way, weave these two worlds together because they are very separate, you know, these people are not friends, they don't need to know each other, or honestly, the only thing that brings them together is you and know,

Dirk: [:

And that just blows my mind. I could never entertain that thought. I can't imagine that And I don't know how other adoptees feel, but I know I've talked to several that have done that and I'm like, wow, that's bold. I'm sure it's healthy. Yeah, there's a [00:44:00] piece I'm not

Damon: [:

You know, I did it, , but for me it was different because I introduced my natural mother to my adoptive father. I didn't introduce mother to mother nor father to father. Right. So you, weren't bringing someone into face-to-face contact with another person who basically could have had their role, you know?

cally attached and descended [:

You know, what we now know is a lot of nature that's within us. It's gotta be tough, you know, to, to see, you know, this other person that. You look like you identify with, it's, it's, . It's gotta be challenging.

Dirk: [:

And you asked me today and it's like, wow, so much nature in there that you can't describe, or you can't even, you know, you can't put your finger on it, but the nature part of it is, is really strong. [00:46:00] Yeah. That's exactly right. Yeah.

Damon: [:

I hope that one day she'll want to know you, but I mean, it sounds like it's been years in between , your outreach and she sounds pretty steadfast and letting the past be the past, especially given. Probably , how she felt about your dad and how things turned out. But the welcome you've got at home with your dad's family is just unbelievable.

And I'm so happy for you for that. That's really cool.

Dirk: [:

So yeah, [00:47:00] just trying to process the good with the bad and, and keep going forward.

Damon: [:

Dirk: [00:47:10] Well, thank you, Damon. I love, love, love your show. Great

Damon: [:

Have a great evening, man. All the best. All right.

Dirk: [:

Show CloseHey it's me,

Dirk's is a story of identity in my mind.

There's the kid that grows up being told he is descendent of one culture, but feeling and hearing from the outside world that he might be something else.

Part of our identity is the connection we hope to feel from our biological relatives.

While his birth mother [:

They may not have a relationship, but at least Dirk got some small measure of closure when she admitted 1960 was a tough year, acknowledging his identity in her life.

It was great to hear that Dirk's paternal connections are accepting, positive, and loving.

I'm sure it's hard for his sister to reconcile Dirk's birth in close proximity to her own, but neither of the kids planned their sibling relationship.

I hope she's able to reconcile with her father, and with Dirk.

His other paternal siblings have accepted the past, and if Dirk and his sister aren't able to come togheter, they're going to miss out on the great people one another are.

I'm Damon [:

Damon: [:

They may not have a relationship, but at least Dirk got some small measure of closure. When she admitted 1960 was a tough year, acknowledging his identity in her life. It was. It [00:50:00] was great to hear that Dirk's paternal connections are accepting positive and loving. I'm sure it's hard for his sister to reconcile Dirk's birth in close proximity to her own, but neither of the kids planned their sibling relationship. I hope she's able to reconcile with her father and with Dirk, his other paternal siblings have accepted the past. And if Dirk and his sister aren't able to come together, they're going to miss out on the great people. One another are.

I'm Damon Davis. And to hope you'll find something in Dirk's journey that inspires you. Validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have this strength along your journey to learn. Who am i